Human Rights are for you

For Blog Action Day 2013 be selfish and demand your human rights, writes DDVG caseworker, Fraser.

Eleanor Roosevelt and United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Spanish  via Wikipedia Commons
Eleanor Roosevelt and United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Spanish via Wikipedia Commons

Human rights have been in the news recently and, not for the first time, they have taken a battering. The UK Home Secretary Theresa May announced in September that the Conservative Party plans to scap the Human Rights Act, following on from her plans to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights. These proposals were welcomed with no small amount of glee by certain sections of the British press.

Especially for you

If you listened to Ms May speaking on human rights you could be forgiven for concluding that only criminals are entitled to human rights. Or perhaps you read the false claim that prisoners have avoided deportation solely through ownership of a cat. Instead, I propose you be a bit more selfish and think how your human rights benefit you.

It’s your life: accountable government

The past years have hardly been the best advert for the integrity of our elected representatives (of any party). Think cash for peerages and cash for access, together with the continuing issue of MPs’ expenses. So it makes sense to be a little suspicious when a Government wants to get rid of a crucial means of accountability. Being in Government is difficult and I’m sure it’s easy for our ministers to see human rights as an unnecessary hassle.

© UK Home Office and made available through the CC Attribution 2.0 Generic licence
© UK Home Office and made available through the CC Attribution 2.0 Generic licence

But the Human Rights Act and and the European Convention on Human Rights can and should restrict our Government’s behaviour. Shortly after David Cameron talked of the importance of press freedom after the phone-hacking scandal the Government was complicit in the detention of the partner of a journalist under Terrorism laws. David Miranda’s human rights will be argued in his forthcoming court case and we should be thankful that the Government’s actions were limited and our free press protected by our human rights.

As another example, following the introduction of the bedroom tax disabled people used their human rights to protect themselves from its worst consequences. Leaving aside the fact that misfortune could leave us or a family member disabled, in this case human rights prevented the consequences of the tough decisions falling on those most vulnerable.

Family matters

As globalisation progresses, we are all more likely to meet those from foreign countries. As a result, the odds increase that we could fall in love with a foreign national.

Our current immigration rules require the British partner of a bi-national couple to earn an income significantly above the UK average wage, in order for his/her non-British partner to stay in the UK. The rules mean that working class people are being forced to split from their families or leave the UK. Again, it is only human rights that are keeping these families together as the cases proceed (slowly) through the courts.

Preventing forced migration

Public discussions of human rights seem to suggest that a vote for human rights is a vote for increased migration. However, human rights are an internationally agreed set of protections. William Hague wrote in his introduction to the Foreign Office 2012 Human Rights and Democracy report that:

The promotion and protection of human rights is at the heart of the UK’s foreign policy objectives. I, along with my ministerial team, consistently raise human rights violations wherever and whenever they occur.

The reason for this inconsistency between the Home and Foreign Offices is that it benefits the UK when other countries respect human rights. Without human rights violations in places such as Syria fewer refugees would reach our shores (but bear in mind that the numbers are already far lower than you would think).

However, if we say human rights are not important or if we commit human rights abuses, for example by being complicit in torture, it is increasingly difficult to tell other countries to respect them – and then we all have to deal with the consequences.

Whatever your views on the benefits or costs of migration it is surely better if fewer people are forced to flee their homes due to human rights abuses. So, be selfish and demand your human rights.


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